State ethics panel probes Lopez settlement

Assemb. Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn)

Assemb. Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn) (Credit: Bryan Pace, 2001)

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The state ethics commission has subpoenaed a law firm that represented two women who accused Assemb. Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn) of sexual harassment, the firm said Thursday.

The statement by attorney Gloria Allred was the first public confirmation that the Joint Commission on Public Ethics is investigating the accusations against Lopez and a secret settlement payment of $103,080 in taxpayer money. Lopez also contributed $32,000 to settle the case.

"We have received subpoenas from JCOPE and are communicating with the commission to ensure our cooperation," Allred, of Los Angeles, said in a statement.

The commission held a quickly scheduled closed-door meeting on Tuesday that was widely believed to be about the Lopez allegations, though the commission has not commented on the case.

"The commission does not confirm or comment on any investigative matters that may or may not be before it," spokesman John Milgrim said Thursday in an email. A vote on Tuesday to begin the investigation was needed for the panel to issue subpoenas.

The New York Times reported Thursday night that the ethics panel has decided not to authorize an investigation of use of public money by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to settle the case. Citing people with knowledge of the investigation, the newspaper said the commission has opted to "focus more narrowly" on the conduct of Lopez, whose behavior already is under investigation by the Albany and Staten Island district attorneys.

Silver (D-Manhattan) has apologized for how he handled the secret settlement and said future cases would be referred to the Assembly ethics committee. He has dismissed calls by Republicans for his resignation as speaker.

Lopez, who has stepped down as Brooklyn Democratic leader, has rebuffed calls for his resignation and denies the harassment allegations. He has not been charged criminally.

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